Comptroller of the Currency
Administrator of National Banks
Trade Finance Table of Contents
Risks Associated with Trade Financing 2
Credit Risk 2
Foreign Currency Translation Risk 3
Transaction Risk 4
Compliance Risk 4
Strategic Risk 5
Reputation Risk 5
Risk Management 6
Settlement of Trade Transactions 7
Trade Financing Instruments 8
Letters of Credit 8
Commercial Documentary Letter of Credit 8
Standby Letters of Credit 11
Activities Commonly Backed by Letters of Credit 12
Document Discrepancies 15
Government Programs 17
Relevant Legislation 20
Anti-Boycott Provisions of the Export Administration Act 20
Export Trading Company Act of 1982 22
Other Legal Issues 23
Accounting Practices 23
Capital Requirements 24
Examination Procedures 25
General Procedures 25
Quantity of Risk 28
Quality of Risk Management 43
Conclusion Procedures 52
Comptroller’s Handbook i Trade Finance
Trade Finance Introduction
This booklet contains background and procedural guidance for examiners
who evaluate trade finance operations. It combines the previous
Comptroller’s Handbook sections on letters of credit and guarantees-issued.
Banker’s acceptances, another trade finance product, are the topic of a
separate booklet that has not yet been published as of this booklet’s printing.
The expansion of international trade that supported growth in incomes
following World War II has been accompanied by dramatic transformations
in the economies of the United States and other countries. U.S. exports as a
percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) has been steadily rising since
World War II; in the 1990s it has averaged 11 percent. An increasing
number of U.S. jobs are associated with exports.
Governments around the world are supporting cross-border trade by
coordinating the rules that govern it. In 1993, the United States and 116
other nations concluded the Uruguay Round negotiations of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a major multilateral trade agreement.
The GATT establishes free trade principles and expands worldwide trade by
reducing tariffs and other trade barriers, including export subsidies and
regulations. Also in 1993, the United States, Mexico, and Canada completed
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By integrating 370
million consumers and an approximately $6.5 trillion economy, NAFTA
created one of the world’s largest trading markets. Several other significant
regional trade blocs have developed recently – e.g., the European Union.
As international trade increases, so does the importance of trade finance. The
success of a nation’s export program depends on the availability of trade
finance, which facilitates the transfer of commodities and manufactured
goods between countries. Trade finance, an important business for U.S.
banks, generates more than $1 billion in revenue annually. Banks can
participate in trade financing by providing pre-export financing, helping in
the collection process, confirming or issuing letters of credit, discounting
drafts and acceptances, and offering fee-based services such as providing
credit and country information on buyers. Although most trade financing is
short-term, medium-term loans (one to five years) and long-term loans (more
than five years) finance the import and export of capital goods such as
machinery and equipment.
To promote exports, many countries, including the United States, offer
various guarantee programs to help minimize the lender’s risk in international
Comptroller’s Handbook 1 Trade Finance
transactions. The Export-Import Bank of the United States offers the most
notable U.S. government guarantee programs.
Risks Associated With Trade Financing
For purposes of the OCC’s discussion of risk, the OCC can be said to assess
banking risk relative to its impact on capital and earnings. From a
supervisory perspective, risk is the potential that events, expected or
unanticipated, may have an adverse impact on the bank’s capital or earnings.
The OCC has defined nine categories of risk for bank supervision purposes.
These risks are: credit, interest rate, liquidity, price, foreign currency
translation, transaction, compliance, strategic, and reputation. These
categories are not mutually exclusive; any product or service may expose the
bank to multiple risks. For analysis and discussion purposes, however, the
OCC identifies and assesses the risks separately.
The risks associated with trade financing are: credit, foreign currency
translation, transaction, compliance, strategic, and reputation. These risks are
discussed more fully in the following paragraphs.
Credit risk is the current and prospective risk to earnings or capital arising
from an obligor’s failure to meet the terms of any contract with the bank or
otherwise to perform as agreed. Credit risk is found in all activities in where
success depends on counterparty, issuer, or borrower performance. It arises
any time bank funds are extended, committed, invested, or otherwise
exposed through actual or implied contractual agreements, whether reflected
on or off the balance sheet.
In trade finance, many transactions are self-liquidating or supported by letters
of credit and guarantees, and the examiner must review each transaction
individually to properly identify and evaluate the sources of repayment.
Although trade finance has a low loss ratio historically, it is a very specialized
area, and a bank that lacks the appropriate expertise may experience losses
because of improper structuring, poor documentation, unfamiliarity with a
country’s business practices, or improper pricing. A bank should ensure that
documents on shipments of goods are proper and thorough. Any bank
engaging in trade finance should thoroughly analyze the risks. In issuing a
letter of credit for a domestic importer, the bank must evaluate the importer’s
repayment capacity as it would that of any other type of borrower. In
confirming or accepting as collateral a foreign bank’s letter of credit, a U.S.
bank must evaluate the risk that the foreign importer/bank may not be able to
Trade Finance 2 Comptroller’s Handbook
raise the dollars required to repay the transaction because of capital controls
in the importing country.
The Interagency Country Exposure Review Committee (ICERC) reviews and
evaluates trade finance credits for transfer risk. Upon reviewing the history
and performance of these types of transactions, the ICERC usually concludes
that trade finance credits granted by U.S. banks to entities in foreign countries
have a low risk of default.
The low default risk is due, in part, to the importance that countries assign to
maintaining access to trade credits. In a currency crisis, central banks may
require all foreign currency inflows to be turned over to the central bank.
The central bank would then prioritize foreign currency payments. Trade
liabilities would be more likely to be designated for repayment than most
other types of credits. For this reason, trade finance is viewed as having less
transfer risk than other types of debt.
Foreign Currency Translation Risk
Foreign currency translation risk is the current and prospective risk to
earnings or capital arising from the conversion of a bank’s financial
statements from one currency into another. It refers to the variability in
accounting values for a bank’s equity accounts that result from variations in
exchange rates which are used in translating carrying values and income
streams in foreign currencies to U.S. dollars. Market-making and position-
taking in foreign currencies should be captured under price risk.
In a trade transaction, foreign currency translation risk arises from the
exposure to fluctuations in exchange rates whenever payments involve
foreign currencies. The level of risk depends on the currency involved in the
transaction, whether the bank creates an open position, the size of any
maturity gap, and settlement uncertainties.
A bank financing an exporter’s operation by discounting foreign-currency-
denominated drafts or acceptances encounters foreign currency translation
risk because of the time lag between its discounting of the draft or acceptance
and its collection from the foreign importer or bank. The U.S. bank will be
exposed to foreign currency translation risk from the time it discounts the
instrument and pays the local exporter the dollar equivalent of the draft or
acceptance until it collects from the foreign counterpart in the foreign
currency. If the foreign currency depreciates in relation to the dollar during
the time it takes the bank to pay the exporter and to collect on the foreign
instrument, the bank incurs a loss.
Comptroller’s Handbook 3 Trade Finance
When the U.S. exporter is paid by the foreign importer with a dollar-
denominated draft, exchange risk may arise from transfer problems. Transfer
problems may occur when the foreign importer is located in a country that is
having difficulties accumulating hard currency reserves. In those
circumstances, the foreign importer may have the local currency to repay its
debt but be unable to purchase the dollars because of central bank controls
over the sale of hard currency. The payment instructions to the foreign
importer’s bank could allow payment to be received from the foreign
importer in local currency with the stipulation that, when foreign exchange in
U.S. dollars is allocated by the government authorities for the transaction, it
should be remitted to the exporter’s U.S. bank. Depending on the scarcity of
foreign exchange in the foreign importer’s nation, the wait may be longer
than anticipated, exposing the U.S. bank to exchange risk if it discounted the
Foreign currency translation risk is further discussed in the “Foreign
Exchange” booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook.
Transaction risk is the current and prospective risk to earnings or capital
arising from fraud, error, and the inability to deliver products or services,
maintain a competitive position, and manage information. Risk is inherent in
efforts to gain strategic advantage, and in the failure to keep pace with
changes in the financial services marketplace. Transaction risk is evident in
each product and service offered. Transaction risk encompasses: product
development and delivery, transaction processing, systems development,
computing systems, complexity of products and services, and the internal
Transaction risk is also referred to as operating or operational risk. This risk is
particularly high in trade transactions because of the high level of
documentation required in letter of credit operations. Many transactions
evolve readily from letters of credit to sight drafts or acceptances or to notes
and advances, collateralized by trust or warehouse receipts. Repayment
often depends on the eventual sale of goods and the accuracy of
documentation. Thus, the documents required to secure payment under the
letter of credit should be properly handled.
Compliance risk is the current and prospective risk to earnings or capital
arising from violations of, or nonconformance with, laws, rules, regulations,
prescribed practices, internal policies and procedures, or ethical standards.
Compliance risk also arises in situations where the laws or rules governing
certain bank products or activities of the bank’s clients may be ambiguous or
Trade Finance 4 Comptroller’s Handbook
untested. Compliance risk exposes the institution to fines, civil money
penalties, payment of damages, and the voiding of contracts. Compliance
risk can lead to a diminished reputation, reduced franchise value, limited
business opportunities, reduced expansion potential, and an inability to
Compliance risk can be overlooked because it often blends into transaction
risk and operational processing. In trade transactions, failure to comply with
domestic and international laws, such as the anti-boycott provisions of the
Export Administration Act or regulations enforced by the Department of the
Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control (see the “Bank Secrecy Act” booklet
of the Comptroller’s Handbook), may result in fines and prevent the bank
from collecting on a transaction.
The bank must be aware of the laws of the country in which the counterpart
to the domestic customer is located. The bank must ensure that collection
and penalty procedures stipulated in the contract are enforceable in the
foreign country. For this reason many banks rely on foreign correspondent
bank relationships in the countries where they are active but lack branches.
Strategic risk is the current and prospective risk on earnings or capital arising
from adverse business decisions, improper implementation of decisions, or
lack of responsiveness to industry changes. This risk is a function of the
compatibility of an organization’s strategic goals, the business strategies
developed to achieve those goals, the resources deployed against these goals,
and the quality of implementation. The resources needed to carry out
business strategies are both tangible and intangible. They include
communication channels, operating systems, delivery networks, and
managerial capacities and capabilities. The organization’s internal
characteristics must be evaluated against the impact of economic,
technological, competitive, regulatory, and other environmental changes.
Strategic risk in trade financing arises when a bank does not know enough
about the region in which it is doing business or the financing product it is
using. A bank considering whether to finance trade must carefully develop
its financing strategy.
Reputation risk is the current and prospective impact on earnings and capital
arising from negative public opinion. This affects the institution’s ability to
establish new relationships or services or to continue servicing existing
relationships. This risk may expose the institution to litigation, financial loss,
Comptroller’s Handbook 5 Trade Finance
or a decline in its customer base. Reputation risk exposure is present
throughout the organization and includes the responsibility to exercise an
abundance of caution in dealing with its customers and community.
Trade financing is an area where reputation and market perception is
particularly important. Trade financing requires expedient processing of
operations and significant attention to details of documents. A bank’s failure
to meet these requirements may result in financial losses to the bank and its
customers, and may diminish its business opportunities in the trade financing
community. To regain its foothold, the bank may have to lower prices on its
products and fund expensive advertising/public relations efforts.
In reviewing risk, examiners should determine that a bank has adequate
safeguards in place to identify, measure, monitor, and control risks inherent
in the trade finance area. Such safeguards include policies, procedures,
internal controls, and management information systems governing trade
finance activities. The importance of strong internal controls in this area
cannot be overemphasized. There is a growing incidence of counterfeit
letters of credit, totaling millions of dollars. Often, these counterfeit
instruments are not identified in a timely manner. A significant amount of
funds can be released before the schemes are detected. Bankers should
closely monitor every detail of a letter of credit transaction.
Examiners should also assess the capabilities of the trade finance staff and the
adequacy of their training. A bank’s trade finance policy should identify the
target market, prospective customers, and desirable countries, and it should
set country limits and minimum standards for documentation. The bank’s
trade credit administration system should be documented in a complete and
concise manner and should include, when appropriate, narrative
descriptions, flowcharts, copies of forms, and other pertinent information.
Adequate documentation is the principal means available to reduce or
eliminate risks inherent in international trade. Therefore, operating policies
and procedures should address the documentation requirements for each
transaction, and internal controls should be established to ensure adequate
reviews. A well-organized and efficient backroom operation is essential
because of the amount of documentation involved.
There is always the risk that a shipment will be damaged or destroyed, the
wrong goods will be shipped, or the quality of goods (especially if the goods
are agricultural) will be lower than stipulated. Insurance coverage is crucial to
protect the buyer, the seller, and the issuing bank from loss. Banks should
not issue commercial letters of credit without satisfactory insurance coverage.
Trade Finance 6 Comptroller’s Handbook
Settlement of Trade Transactions
Trade finance transactions can be structured in a number of ways. The
structure used in a specific transaction reflects how well the participants
know each other, the countries involved, and the competition in the market.
Sales can involve prepayments, shipments by open account, collections, and
letters of credit. All of these structures are likely to be encountered in trade
transactions with most countries. However, open account sales prevail in
Europe, whereas letter of credit transactions are the norm in sales to emerging
The seller may require prepayment in the following circumstances: (1) the
buyer has not been long established, (2) the buyer has a poor credit history,
or (3) the product is in heavy demand and the seller does not have to
accommodate a buyer’s financing request in order to sell the merchandise.
Prepayment eliminates all risks to the seller.
Open account (unsecured) shipments are made when the buyer has a strong
credit history and is well-known to the seller. The buyer may also be able to
demand open account sales when there are several sources from which to
obtain the seller’s product or when open account is the norm in the buyer’s
market. This option places all risks on the seller.
Letters of credit allow the issuing banks to substitute their creditworthiness for
that of their customers. At a customer’s request, the issuing bank pays stated
sums of money to sellers of goods against stipulated documents transferring
ownership of the goods.
Collections are of two types: clean (financial document alone) and
documentary (commercial documents with or without a financial document).
A financial document is a check or a draft; a commercial document is a bill of
lading or other shipping document.
A clean collection involves dollar-denominated drafts and checks presented
for collection to U.S. banks by their foreign correspondents. In a
documentary collection, the exporter draws a draft or bill of exchange
directly on the importer and presents this draft, with shipping documents
attached, to the bank for collection.
The bank’s role in a prepaid or open account transaction may be to transfer
funds at the order of the buyer to the seller or to provide credit information
on either party. In collection and letter of credit transactions, the bank takes
a very active role in the exchange of documents between buyer and seller.
Comptroller’s Handbook 7 Trade Finance
The documents are the means by which the banker participates in the trade
transaction, either as agent for the seller or financier for the buyer. The bank
may also extend credit to the seller in anticipation of the incoming payment.
Trade Financing Instruments
There are various trade financing instruments. This section reviews letters of
credit and guarantees-issued. Bankers acceptances are discussed in a
separate section of the Comptroller’s Handbook.
Letters of Credit
A letter of credit, the most widely used trade finance instrument, is the
simplest and most effective way for banks to finance export and import trade.
The letter of credit is a formal letter issued for a bank’s customer and
authorizes an individual or company to draw drafts on the bank under certain
conditions. It is an instrument through which a bank furnishes its credit in
place of its customer’s credit. The bank plays an intermediary role to help
complete the transaction. A letter of credit does not prevent an importer from
being taken in by an unscrupulous exporter, because the bank deals only in
documents and does not inspect the goods themselves.
The Uniform Commercial Code and the Uniform Customs and Practices for
Documentary Credits published by the United States Council of the
International Chamber of Commerce set forth the covenants governing the
issuance and negotiation of letters of credit. All letters of credit must be
• In favor of a specific beneficiary,
• For a specific amount of money,
• In a form clearly stating how payment to the beneficiary is to be made
and under what conditions, and
• With a specific expiration date.
Commercial Documentary Letter of Credit
There are two major types of letters of credit used to finance foreign
transactions: the commercial documentary letter of credit and the standby
letter of credit. The commercial documentary letter of credit is most
commonly used to finance a commercial contract for the shipment of goods
from seller to buyer. This versatile instrument may be applied to nearly every
type of foreign transaction and provides for the prompt payment of money to
Trade Finance 8 Comptroller’s Handbook
the seller when shipment is made as specified under its terms. There are
three parties to any type of letter of credit: the account party (or customer),
the beneficiary, and the bank. Generally, a letter of credit also identifies a
paying bank. The commercial letter of credit is addressed by a bank to a
seller (beneficiary) on behalf of the bank’s customer, a buyer of merchandise
(account party). The letter authorizes the seller to draw drafts up to a
stipulated amount under specified terms and undertakes to provide eventual
payment for drafts drawn. The beneficiary will be paid when the terms of the
letter of credit are met and the required documents are submitted to the
In determining which type of commercial documentary letter of credit is
suitable for a particular transaction, one should consider:
• The nature of the merchandise.
• The relationship between the exporter and importer.
• The financial standing and reputation of the buyer, the seller, and the
issuing (opening) bank.
• How many times the underlying transaction is taking place.
• The financing needs of the exporter and importer.
• The availability and cost of financing in different countries.
Commercial documentary letters of credit are issued in either irrevocable or
revocable form. An irrevocable letter of credit is a definite commitment by
the issuing bank to pay, provided the beneficiary complies with the letter’s
terms and conditions. An irrevocable letter of credit cannot be changed
unless all parties agree. Conversely, the issuing bank can cancel or amend a
revocable letter of credit unless the beneficiary is notified. Not truly a bank
credit in function, the revocable credit is a means by which the buyer and
seller settle payments. Because a revocable credit can be canceled or
changed without notice, the beneficiary should rely not on the credit but on
the willingness and ability of the buyer to meet the terms of the underlying
The letter of credit may be sent to the beneficiary directly by the issuing bank
or through the issuing bank’s correspondent located in the same place as the
beneficiary. The correspondent may act as an “advising bank.” The advising
bank acts as an agent of the issuing bank in forwarding the letter to the
beneficiary and makes no commitment on its part. The advising bank
facilitates communications between the issuing bank and the beneficiary in
Comptroller’s Handbook 9 Trade Finance
the advising bank’s community. However, unlike a bank that “confirms,” the
advising bank does not assume any liability if the issuing bank fails to
perform. Advised letters of credit will bear a notation by the advising bank
that it makes “no engagement,” or words to that effect. An irrevocable
advised letter of credit is, therefore, the undertaking to pay of the issuing
bank rather than the advising bank.
Some beneficiaries (sellers), particularly those not familiar with the issuing
bank, ask the buyer to have the irrevocable letter of credit issued in the
buyer’s country and “confirmed” by a bank in the seller’s country.
Confirmed letters of credit bear the confirming bank’s declaration, “We
undertake that all drafts drawn . . . will be honored by us,” or a similar
statement. Because the beneficiary of a confirmed credit has a definite
commitment to pay from a bank in its country, it does not need to be
concerned with the willingness or ability of the issuing bank to pay. A bank
may play more than one role. For example, an advising bank may add its
confirmation and be designated in the letter of credit as the paying bank.
Payment terms of a letter of credit generally vary from “sight” to 180 days,
although other terms sometimes are used. The letter will specify on which
bank drafts are to be drawn. If the draft is drawn at sight, the bank will make
the payment upon presentation of the draft, provided the terms of the credit
have been met. If the draft is to be drawn at maturity, the bank accepts the
draft (by stamping “accepted” on its face) and holds it until it is payable.
Alternatively, the seller can hold the draft, or the bank or the seller can sell or
discount it. (For additional information, please refer to the Comptroller’s
Handbook on “Banker’s Acceptances.”)
Certain commercial letters of credit, such as a “back-to-back” credit (a letter
of credit issued on the strength of another letter of credit involving a related
transaction and nearly identical terms) and a “red clause” credit (also called a
“packing credit”), contain additional elements of risk, and banks should
exercise caution in negotiating them. Timing is critical for back-to-back
letters of credit because the back-to-back arrangement increases the
possibility that goods will be shipped after the letter of credit’s expiration
date. Deferred payment letters of credit, which become direct liabilities of a
bank after presentation and receipt of the beneficiary’s documents, involve
greater potential risk because of the length of time the credit is outstanding.
Back-to-back letters of credit are appropriate when an agent is an
intermediary between a manufacturer of goods exported and a foreign
importer, does not have the funds to pay the manufacturer, and does not
want the manufacturer to know the name of the importer (because the
manufacturer may try to deal directly with the importer). The exporter takes
the letter of credit issued by the importer’s bank to his bank. The exporter’s
bank issues a letter of credit in favor of the manufacturer based on the terms
Trade Finance 10 Comptroller’s Handbook
of the original letter issued by the importer’s bank. The letter of credit issued
to the manufacturer does not carry the name of the importer. Generally, a
bank issues a back-to-back letter of credit if it is the paying bank on the
original letter of credit and is willing to accept the credit risk of both the
exporter and the original issuing bank, as well as the transfer risk of the
In a red clause letter of credit (a clause on the instrument is printed in red
ink), the issuing bank authorizes a negotiating bank to advance funds to an
exporter prior to the shipment of goods and presentation of documents. The
red clause enables the beneficiary/exporter to pay its suppliers using another
In collection and letter of credit transactions, the bank takes an active role in
the exchange of documents between buyer and seller. These documents are
the means by which the banker participates in the trade transaction, either as
agent for the seller or financier for the buyer. The bank may also extend
credit to the seller in anticipation of the incoming payment.
Standby Letters of Credit
Standby letters of credit are also a common instrument in trade finance. Like
other letters of credit, standby letters of credit involve a customer, a
beneficiary, and a bank. A standby letter of credit guarantees payment to the
beneficiary by the issuing bank in the event of default or nonperformance by
the account party (the bank’s customer). Although a standby letter of credit
may arise from a commercial transaction, it is not linked directly to the
shipment of goods from seller to buyer. For example, it may cover
performance of a construction contract, serve as an assurance to a buyer that
the seller will honor its obligations under warranties, or relate to the
performance of a purely monetary obligation, e.g., when the credit is used to
guarantee payment of commercial paper at maturity. A bank issuing standby
letters of credit has a different role from one issuing commercial letters of
Activities Commonly Backed by Standby Letters of Credit
Standby letters of credit can be used as:
• Credit enhancement facilities
The bank guarantees payment of a company’s paper and the rating of the
bank replaces the company’s rating. In such a situation, the standby letter
of credit often acts as a backup of bond issues or commercial paper
Comptroller’s Handbook 11 Trade Finance
facilities. Credit enhancement is the most common role of standby letters
• Loan guarantees
Standby letters of credit have been used on behalf of bank clients to
enable them to borrow from private and institutional lenders at more
favorable terms than they could obtain from their own bank. If the issuing
bank has a strong credit rating in the bond or commercial paper market,
the customer can gain access to that rating with its lower rate of interest
through a standby letter of credit. The private lender relies on the bank’s
letter of credit, knowing that the lender may draw on the bank for
repayment if the borrower does not directly repay the loan.
• Advance payment bonds
Standby letters of credit, which are often used when the account party is
paid part of the contract value in advance, ensure return of the advance
payment if the goods or services are not provided.
• Performance bonds
A standby letter of credit can be drawn on only if the account party does
not comply with the terms of a contract or if there are defects in its goods
and services. Engineering firms, contractors, equipment manufacturers,
and exporters are often users. To effect payment, the beneficiary must
present a draft to the issuing bank accompanied by a statement citing the
nonperformance of the bank’s customer under terms of an awarded
contract. The issuing bank is obligated to pay the beneficiary and then
seek reimbursement from the customer.
• Bid bonds
A standby letter of credit can be used to ensure that the account party’s
bid for a contract is sincere and that the account party will enter into a
contract that is awarded.
There are many differences between standby letters of credit and commercial
documentary letters of credit. Commercial documentary letters of credit are
generally short-term payment instruments for trade finance, while standby
letters of credit are written for any purpose or maturity.
Under all letters of credit, the banker expects the customer to be financially
able to meet its commitments. A banker’s payment under a commercial
credit for the customer’s account is usually reimbursed immediately by the
customer and does not become a loan. However, the bank makes payment
Trade Finance 12 Comptroller’s Handbook
on a standby letter of credit only when the customer has defaulted on its
primary obligation and will probably be unable to reimburse the institution
A standby letter of credit transaction holds more potential risk for the issuing
bank than does a commercial documentary letter of credit. Unless the
transaction is fully secured, the issuer of a standby letter of credit retains
nothing of value to protect it against loss, whereas a commercial
documentary letter of credit provides the bank with title to the goods being
shipped. For reporting purposes, standby letters of credit (like undisbursed
commercial letters of credit) are shown as contingent liabilities on the issuer’s
balance sheet. Once a standby letter of credit is drawn upon, the amount
drawn becomes a direct liability of the issuing bank.
The bank must ensure that standby letters of credit are segregated or made
readily identifiable from other types of letters of credit or guarantees. Standby
letters of credit should be aggregated with other direct lending when
determining compliance with the legal lending limit. Like commercial letters
of credit, standby letters of credit are covered under the Uniform Customs
and Practices for Documentary Credits.
The success of a letter of credit transaction depends heavily on
documentation, and a single transaction can require many different kinds of
documents. Most letter of credit transactions involve a draft, an invoice, an
insurance certificate, and a bill of lading; governments regulating the passage
of goods across their borders may require inspection certificates, consular
invoices, or certificates of origin; transactions can entail notes and advances
collateralized by trust receipts or warehouse receipts; and transactions can
culminate in sight drafts or acceptances. Because letter of credit transactions
can be so complicated and can involve so many parties (not to mention areas
of the bank), banks must ensure that their letters are accompanied by the
proper documents, that those documents are accurate, and that all areas of
the bank handle them properly.
Documentation is of four primary types: transfer, insurance, commercial, and
other. Transfer documents are issued by a transportation company when
moving the merchandise from the seller to the buyer. The bill of lading is the
most common transfer document.
The bill of lading is a receipt given by the freight company to the shipper. A
bill of lading serves as a document of title and specifies who is to receive the
merchandise at the designated port (as specified by the exporter). It can be in
nonnegotiable form (straight bill of lading) or in negotiable form (order bill of
Comptroller’s Handbook 13 Trade Finance
lading). In a straight bill of lading, the seller (exporter) consigns the goods
directly to the buyer (importer). This type of bill is usually not desirable in a
letter of credit transaction, because it allows the buyer to obtain possession of
the merchandise without regard to any bank agreement for repayment. A
straight bill of lading may be more suitable for prepaid or open account
With an order bill of lading the shipper can consign the goods to the bank,
which retains title until the importer acknowledges liability to pay. This
method is preferred in documentary or letter of credit transactions. The bank
maintains control of the merchandise until the buyer completes all the
required documentation. The bank then releases the bill of lading to the
buyer, who presents it to the shipping company and gains possession of the
Insurance documents, normally an insurance certificate, cover the
merchandise being shipped against damage or loss. The terms of the
merchandise contract may dictate that either the seller or the buyer obtain
insurance. Open policies may cover all shipments and provide for certificates
on specific shipments.
The commercial documents, principally the invoice, are the seller’s
description of the goods shipped and the means by which the buyer gains
assurances that the goods shipped are the same as those ordered. Among the
most important commercial documents are the invoice and the draft or bill of
exchange. Through the invoice, the seller presents to the buyer a statement
describing what has been sold, the price, and other pertinent details.
The draft supplements the invoice as the means by which the seller charges
the buyer for the merchandise and demands payment from the buyer, the
buyer’s bank, or some other bank. Although a draft and a check are very
similar, the writer of a draft demands payment from another party’s account.
In a letter of credit, the draft is drawn by the seller, usually on the issuing,
confirming, or paying bank, for the amount of money due under the terms of
the letter of credit. In a collection, this demand for payment is drawn on the
buyer. The customary parties to a draft, which is a negotiable instrument, are
the drawer (usually the exporter), the drawee (the importer or a bank), and
the payee (usually the exporter), who is also the endorser. A draft can be
“clean” (an order to pay) or “documentary” (with shipping documents
A draft that is negotiable:
• Is signed by the maker or drawer,
• Contains an unconditional promise to pay a certain sum of money,
Trade Finance 14 Comptroller’s Handbook
• Is payable on demand or at a definite time,
• Is payable to order or to bearer,
• Is two-name paper, and
• May be sold and ownership transferred by endorsement to the “holder in
due course.” The holder in due course has recourse to all previous
endorsers if the primary obligor (drawee) does not pay. The seller
(drawer) is the secondary obligor if the endorser does not pay. The
secondary obligor has an unconditional obligation to pay if the primary
obligor and the endorser do not, therefore the term “two-name paper.”
Other documentation includes certain official documents that may be
required by governments in order to regulate and control the passage of
goods through their borders.
Document discrepancies can range from minor typographical errors, which
the bank may correct, to misstatements or incorrect documents. When a
bank discovers such errors, especially material discrepancies, it should notify
all parties and amend the documents. If the bank does not do so, it stands to
lose protection and rights. Ultimately, it is the account party’s right to decide
whether to accept the documents with discrepancies or to delay or even
cancel the transaction.
Bills of lading note most discrepancies. If the bill is “unclean” or “foul,”
notations on it will say that the merchandise was received in defective
condition or that it is the wrong kind of bill. Unless specifically stated
otherwise, all bills of lading tendered under credits must be “order” bills as
opposed to “straight” bills. An order bill, which directs the carrier to deliver
the goods to the order of a designated party, is a negotiable document of title
granted to the addressee. A straight bill, which is always so described in its
heading, declares a specific consignee without including the words “to the
order of.” It is not a title document and therefore is not sufficient security for
the issuing bank. Normally, straight bills are used only when the buyer has
made payment in advance; they are seldom used under documentary credits.
The table on the following page highlights some of the common errors in the
documentation of letters of credit.
Comptroller’s Handbook 15 Trade Finance
Common Errors in Documentation of
Letters of Credit
Bills of Lading Invoices
1. Unclean (when there are conditions 1. Invoice name and address do not
which are not properly noted or agree with letter of credit.
reflected). 2. Quantity does not agree with other
2. Ports different from those in the supporting documents.
letter of credit terms. 3. Unit price or extensions of unit
3. Does not indicate whether freight is price are incorrect.
prepaid. 4. Certification required by
4. A later date of shipment than that letter of credit terms is missing.
allowed by terms of the letter of 5. Excess shipment, short shipment,
credit. or partial shipment, which may be
5. Description of merchandise is prohibited by letter’s terms.
inconsistent with other documents. 6. Adjustments on previous shipments
or charges that are not allowed
under the letter’s terms are shown.
7. Sale’s terms omitted or incorrect.
Insurance Documents Drafts and Other Documents
1. Coverage differs from that required 1. Draft is drawn to purchaser instead
by letter of credit terms. of issuing bank.
2. Claims are payable in currency 2. Drawer’s name does not
other than stipulated in letter of correspond to name on invoice.
credit. 3. Tenor of draft differs from that of
3. Policy does not cover transfer the letter of credit.
between shippers, although bills of 4. Credit amount is disproportionate
lading show the transfer will take to quantity invoiced.
place. 5. Certificates of origin do not comply
4. Insurance certificate is presented with importing country
instead of policy, when policy is requirements.
5. Merchandise description is
inconsistent with other documents.
Trade Finance 16 Comptroller’s Handbook
Guarantees and sureties are not permissible activities for national banks,
except when they are incidental or customary to the business of banking. For
example, these activities would be permissible when the bank has a
substantial interest in the performance of a transaction or when the bank has
a segregated deposit sufficient in amount to cover its total potential liability.
A national bank also may guarantee or endorse notes or other obligations
sold by the bank for its own account.
Under certain circumstances, foreign branches of U.S. banks may exercise
powers usually in the province of local banks (12 U.S.C. 604a). Those
powers include guaranteeing a customer’s debts or agreeing to make
payment upon certain readily ascertainable events. Such events include, but
are not limited to, certain nonpayments (of taxes, rentals, customs duties, and
transportation costs) and the loss or nonconformance of shipping documents.
To comply with 12 U.S.C. 604a, the guarantee or agreement must specify a
maximum monetary liability. The same statute subjects liabilities outstanding
to any one customer to the limits under 12 U.S.C. 84 (lending limits).
A common example of a guarantee subject to 12 U.S.C. 604a is a shipside
(steamer) bond. Frequently, in an international sale of goods, the
merchandise arrives at the importer’s (buyer’s) port before the arrival of
correct and complete bills of lading. In such instances, it is customary for the
importer (buyer) to obtain immediate possession of the goods by providing
the shipping company with a bank guarantee, often called a shipside bond,
which holds the shipping company blameless for damage resulting from
release of the goods without proper or complete documents. Usually, the
bank’s guarantee relies on a counter-guarantee issued by the importer to the
The provisions of 12 CFR 28.4(c) (foreign operations) permit a national bank
to guarantee the deposits and liabilities of its Edge Act and agreement
corporations and of its corporate instrumentalities in foreign countries.
Several U.S. government agencies offer guarantees to reduce risk in
international trade financing. For a fee, the agencies protect banks from
commercial and political risk. Although the programs differ in cost and scope
of coverage, they are all designed to encourage commercial banks to
participate in export financing. These government programs have gained
significance because of the debt crisis in less-developed countries during the
1980s, which raised banks’ concerns about transfer risk. When program
requirements are met, the banks are able to carry out trade financing
Comptroller’s Handbook 17 Trade Finance
operations and book assets that might otherwise have been subject to
examiner criticism/classification. Programs have varying conditions and
requirements. The bank should maintain documentation in the file on
program specifics. The requirements of each program should be reviewed by
the examiner to determine the bank’s compliance.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Eximbank) is the most widely
known of the agencies. Eximbank was founded in 1934 to finance and
facilitate exports from the United States to other countries. The agency
encourages commercial financing of U.S. exports by guaranteeing repayment
of loans made to foreign buyers of U.S. exports. In its lending, Eximbank
must ensure that there is a reasonable assurance of repayment. Eximbank
offers a variety of loan, guarantee, and insurance programs.
Eximbank offers a wide range of credit insurance policies covering the risk of
nonpayment by foreign debtors. The policies, some designed specifically for
financial institutions, cover certain percentages of commercial and political
risks and interest repayment. Payment terms range up to seven years. Banks
may obtain short-term policies (of up to 180 days) to cover the risks of:
• Participating in irrevocable letter of credit sales.
• Extending credit lines directly to foreign companies for the purchase of
• Providing financing or guarantees on a U.S. firm’s overseas receivables
Eximbank’s policy on bank letters of credit provides one-year blanket
coverage insuring commercial banks against loss on their confirmations or
negotiations of irrevocable letters of credit issued by foreign banks for U.S.
Examiners are reminded that Eximbank discontinued its relationship with the
Federal Credit Insurance Association (FCIA) in 1992. The FCIA is no longer
backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.
A list of Eximbank loan and guarantee programs appears in the table on the
Trade Finance 18 Comptroller’s Handbook
Eximbank Loan and Guarantee Programs
Program Maximum Coverage Repayment Period
Working capital guarantee
To help eligible exporters Covers up to 100% of the Usually up to 12 months.
obtain pre-export loan’s principal and
Guarantees repayment of Covers up to 100% of the Usually from two to five
fixed or floating rate export guaranteed loan’s principal years, depending on the
loans from U.S. or foreign and interest. contract value. Long-term
lenders to foreign buyers repayment schedule runs
of U.S. exports. up to 10 years.
Provides competitive, fixed Covers up to 85% of the Usually from two to five
interest rate loans to help contract price. years, depending on the
foreign buyers of U.S. contract value. Long-term
exports. The proceeds repayment schedule runs
from such loans are paid to up to 10 years.
Provides a fixed interest Covers the outstanding Varies from two to five
rate loan to lenders that balance of the lender’s years, depending on the
extend loans to buyers export loan, but no more contract value. Also, can
of U.S. exports. than 85% of the contract provide a long-term
price. repayment schedule not
exceeding 10 years.
Other agencies or institutions that facilitate trade:
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a U.S. government
agency that began operations in 1971. OPIC’s mission is to promote
economic growth in developing countries by encouraging U.S. private
Comptroller’s Handbook 19 Trade Finance
investment in those nations. It provides project financing, investment
insurance, and a variety of investor services. OPIC’s three principal programs
cover financing of investments through direct loans, loan guarantees, and
equity investments; insuring investment projects against political risks; and
providing investor services such as country background information and
advisory services. Investments approved by OPIC may be financed through
commercial banks with a loan guarantee from OPIC, which protects banks
and facilitates funding for private investment in developing countries. All of
OPIC’s insurance and guarantee obligations are backed by the full faith and
credit of the U.S. government.
The Small Business Administration provides a revolving line of credit to fund
the short-term needs of firms involved in exporting.
The Agency for International Development (AID) is an agency of the U.S.
government responsible for foreign aid. It becomes involved in trade
primarily by providing funds to emerging market countries and supporting
The Private Export Funding Corporation (PEFCO) is a private corporation
owned by commercial banks, industrial corporations, and financial services
companies. PEFCO mobilizes private capital to finance the sale of U.S.
goods and services to foreign buyers. PEFCO funds itself by placing its
obligations in public financial markets. PEFCO is not backed by the U.S.
government. However, Eximbank supports PEFCO by guaranteeing the
timely receipt of interest and principal on PEFCO’s export loans, guaranteeing
the payment of interest on PEFCO’s secured debt, and making a line of credit
available to PEFCO.
The Commodity Credit Corporation is an agency of the U.S. government that
provides assistance in the production and marketing of U.S. agricultural
commodities and related functions. The agency is also charged with the
development of foreign markets and assists in the sale abroad of surplus
Anti-Boycott Provisions of the Export Administration Act of 1979
The anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50
U.S.C. 240 et seq.) discourage and, in certain instances, prohibit U.S. banks
from engaging in transactions related to unsanctioned foreign boycotts. The
secretary of Commerce is authorized to enforce various provisions of the
Export Administration Act, including issuing regulations to implement the
Trade Finance 20 Comptroller’s Handbook
anti-boycott provisions. Many states, including New York, Florida, and
California, have implemented anti-boycott legislation.
The Department of Commerce regularly examines banks to determine
whether they adhere to the anti-boycott prohibitions and has fined several
banks for noncompliance. The Department of Commerce informs the OCC
before examining national banks and, as much as possible, coordinates its on-
site visits with the appropriate OCC supervisory office. The Department of
Commerce also shares the results of its examinations with the OCC.
The anti-boycott provisions apply primarily to the issuance of international
letters of credit that facilitate United States commerce, when the beneficiary
is a United States citizen.
U.S. banks and their foreign branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates may not
implement letters of credit containing prohibited boycott-related terms or
conditions. Neither may branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates of foreign
banks doing business in the United States. Common illegal boycott-related
• A requirement from a boycotting country for certification that the goods
did not originate from a boycotted country. (A positive certificate of
origin, however, is legal.)
• A requirement from the boycotting country for certification that the
exporter/importer does not do business with a boycotted country.
• A requirement for certification that the supplier of the goods or a provider
of services does not appear on the blacklist of a boycotting country.
• The words, “Do not negotiate with blacklisted banks,” or a condition to
The act does not prohibit advising a beneficiary of the existence of a letter of
credit or performing basic ministerial activities required to dispose of a letter
of credit that contains prohibited boycott terms or conditions.
Reporting requirements for the act. Banks must report to the Department of
Commerce letters of credit that they receive that include prohibited boycott
terms or conditions. Oral requests to take action that would advance or
support an unsanctioned foreign boycott must also be reported.
Criminal and civil penalties under the act. The law provides that whoever
knowingly violates, conspires to violate, or attempts to violate the act or any
regulation, order, or license issued under the act is punishable for each
Comptroller’s Handbook 21 Trade Finance
violation by a fine of not more than five times the value of the exports
involved or $50,000, whichever is greater, imprisonment for not more than
five years, or both. For certain willful violations, the fine is increased to $1
million for companies and $250,000 for individuals. Civil penalties may not
exceed $10,000 for each violation, except when certain national security
controls are involved, in which case the maximum is $100,000.
Examiner role. Examiners should review the adequacy of a bank’s system for
monitoring compliance with the act. Possible violations of the act should be
discussed with district counsel and detailed in the report of examination
(ROE) as appropriate. Information on sanctioned and unsanctioned boycotts
may be obtained from the OCC’s International Banking and Finance Division,
Export Trading Company Act of 1982
The Export Trading Company Act (ETCA) (12 U.S.C. 4001 et seq.), enacted in
October 1982, encourages exports by facilitating the formation and operation
of export trading companies (ETCs). This legislation encourages businesses to
join together to offer export services by permitting certain banking institutions
to own an interest in these exporting ventures and providing protection from
An export trading company’s principal business is to export American goods
and services or help unrelated U.S. companies export their products overseas.
ETCs can also periodically engage in importing and trade between third
countries in order to promote U.S. exports. Foreign ownership of ETCs is
The general provisions of the ETCA, among other things, allow companies to
pool resources through ETCs to market exports. The provisions authorize the
Commerce Department to issue a certificate of review, which grants ETCs
qualified immunity from criminal or civil actions under the antitrust laws.
The ETCA does not give banks (other than bankers’ banks) authority to invest
in ETCs. Congress attempted to reduce the risk posed by this breach in the
traditional wall separating banking and commerce by allowing these
investments to be made only through BHCs, Edge Act or agreement
corporations that are subsidiaries of BHCs, and bankers’ banks. The Federal
Reserve Board, which has adopted regulations implementing the banking
provisions of the ETCA, is the ETCs’ supervisor.
The banking provisions allow bankers’ banks and bank holding companies
(BHCs) to own 100 percent of the stock of an ETC. Bankers’ banks and BHCs
also can invest up to 5 percent and loan up to 10 percent of their capital and
Trade Finance 22 Comptroller’s Handbook
surplus to ETCs. The Federal Reserve Board must be given 60 days prior
notification of a BHC’s intent to invest in an ETC, and may disapprove the
investment during the 60-day period.
Credit transactions between a bank and its affiliated ETC are subject to the
collateral requirements of 12 U.S.C. 371c. Covered transactions between a
bank and an affiliated ETC in which a BHC has invested are subject to the
collateral requirements of 12 U.S.C. 371c. An exception to these
requirements is made when a bank issues a letter of credit or advances funds
to an affiliated ETC solely to finance the purchase of goods for which the ETC
has a buyer under a bona fide contract, and the bank has a security interest in
the goods or in the proceeds from their sale at least equal in value to the
letter of credit or advance. The Federal Reserve Board is authorized to waive
the collateral requirement.
An ETC is prohibited from conducting certain activities. It may not engage in
either agricultural production or manufacturing, except to repackage,
reassemble, or extract byproducts to meet foreign requirements. An ETC
owned by a BHC may not take positions in commodities, commodity
contracts, securities, or foreign exchange except as is necessary to support its
trade finance activity.
Other Legal Issues
Examiners should be aware of the laws that limit the amounts of certain kinds
of letters of credit. Standby letters of credit and guarantees, which are
defined as contractual commitments to advance funds, are subject to the
limits of 12 U.S.C. 84 and must be combined with any other nonaccepted
loans to the account party by the issuing bank (12 CFR 32.2 [f] [j]). Because
commercial letters of credit are repaid in nearly simultaneous operations by
exporter and importer and do not result in the bank granting a loan to the
account party, they are not defined as contractual commitments to advance
funds under regulations governing lending limits (12 CFR 32.2 [f] 2).
Commercial letters of credit issued on behalf of an affiliate are subject to 12
U.S.C. 371c when they are drawn upon and the bank is not reimbursed on or
before the date of payment of the letter of credit.
All types of guarantees issued should be recorded as contingent liabilities on
the books of the bank. Usually, the party for whom the guarantee was issued
will reimburse the bank should it be required to pay under the guarantee;
however, in certain situations some other designated party may reimburse the
bank. This party may be designated in the guarantee agreement with the
Comptroller’s Handbook 23 Trade Finance
bank or even in the guarantee instrument itself. The bank may also be
reimbursed from segregated-deposits-held or pledged collateral, or by a
Eximbank policies normally cover principal and interest. The interest, which
is calculated based on the contract rate of the insured loan, will cover interest
accrued until Eximbank settles the bank’s claim. In the interim, loans that
meet the nonaccrual definition must be reported as such in the call report
(Schedule RC-N) until Eximbank settles the bank’s claim.
For risk-based capital purposes, a 20 percent credit conversion factor is
assigned to trade-related contingencies. Such contingencies are defined by
12 CFR 3 as short-term self-liquidating instruments used to finance the
movement of goods and collateralized by the underlying shipment. A
commercial letter of credit transaction is an example.
Trade Finance 24 Comptroller’s Handbook
Trade Finance Examination Procedures
These procedures are intended to determine the adequacy of the bank’s
policies, procedures, and internal controls as they relate to trade finance. The
extent of testing and procedures performed should be based upon the
examiner’s assessment of risk. This assessment should include consideration
of work performed by other regulatory agencies, internal and external
auditors and other internal compliance review units, formalized policies and
procedures, and the effectiveness of internal controls and management
information systems (MIS).
Objective: Determine the scope of the examination of trade finance and identify
examination activities necessary to achieve stated objectives. .
1. Review the following documents to identify any previous problems that
C Supervisory strategy.
C EIC’s scope memorandum.
C Previous Report of Examination and overall summary comments.
C Working papers from the previous examination.
C Audit reports and, if necessary, working papers.
C Correspondence memorandum.
2. Review the UBPR, BERT, and other applicable reports. Identify any
concerns, trends, or changes in trade finance.
3. Obtain the following from either the examiner performing the evaluation
of loan portfolio management or the bank EIC:
C Any useful information obtained from the review of minutes of the loan
and discount committee or any similar committee.
C Reports related to trade finance that have been furnished to the loan
and discount committee or any similar committee, or the board of
C List of directors, executive officers, principal shareholders, and their
C A list of board and executive or senior management committees that
supervise trade finance, including a list of members and meeting
schedules. Also obtain copies of minutes documenting those meetings
since the last examination.
Comptroller’s Handbook 25 Trade Finance
4. Verify the completeness of requested information with the request list.
5. Determine, during early discussions with management, whether there
C Any significant changes in policies, practices, and personnel relating to
trade balance activities, systems, loan approval or collection processes.
C Material changes in products, volumes, and changes in market focus.
C Levels and trends in delinquencies and losses for each loan type.
C Any internal or external factors that could affect trade finance
6. Review the bank’s business and strategic plans and determine whether
management’s plans for the department are clear and reflect the current
direction of the department.
7. Obtain the following, as needed, to perform the objectives and activities
outlined in the examination scope memorandum:
C The bank’s current trade finance business and strategic plans.
C The budget for trade finance at the beginning of the year, and budget
revisions as of the examination date, along with the current profitability
C An organization chart by function.
C Copies of formal job descriptions for all principal trade finance
C Resumes detailing experience of principals in the department.
C Copies of management compensation programs, including incentive
C Copies of key management reports used by department management.
C Loan review reports covering trade finance since the last examination
and copies of any management responses.
C Descriptions of all codes and abbreviations used on computer-
C A summary listing of all trade finance products offered and a brief
description of their characteristics, including pricing.
C Each officer’s current lending authority.
C Current commission and fee structure.
C Copies of marketing plans for the trade finance department overall and
C Copies of loan policies and procedures for all trade finance products.
C A balance sheet and income and expense statement for the trade
finance department as of the examination date and most recent year-
Trade Finance 26 Comptroller’s Handbook
8. Obtain trade finance reports as needed on the following:
C Participations purchased and sold since the preceding examination
(including syndicate participations).
C Loan commitments and other contingent liabilities.
C Letters of credit issued (or confirmed) for major shareholders, officers,
directors, and their related interests.
C Letters of credit issued (or confirmed) for employees, officers, and
directors of other banks.
C Miscellaneous loan debit and credit suspense accounts.
C Shared National Credits.
C Interagency Country Exposure Review Committee credits.
C Trade finance transactions/loans considered problem assets by
C Specific guidelines in the lending policies, such as procedures for
dealing with anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act of
1979 and any state anti-boycott provisions, if applicable.
C Loans criticized during the previous examination.
C A listing of rebooked charged-off loans (arising from trade finance
9. Based on the performance of these steps and discussions with the
bank EIC, determine the scope of this examination and its objectives.
Select steps necessary to meet objectives from among the following
examination procedures. Seldom will every step be required.
Comptroller’s Handbook 27 Trade Finance
Quantity of Risk
Conclusion: The quantity of risk is (low, moderate, high).
Objective: To determine the level of credit risk in trade finance, while evaluating
the portfolio for collateral sufficiency and collectibility.
Underwriting and Testing
1. Assess the risk of new products implemented since the last examination
and, to the extent possible, the risk of planned products.
2. Establish goals for testing the quantity of risk in the portfolio. Consider
tests already performed by loan review and audit staff to avoid duplication
for areas like:
C Underwriting practices.
C Product performance.
C Management information systems.
3. Using the appropriate sampling technique, select customers for review.
Transcribe file information which may include:
C Customer’s aggregate liability on letters of credit and guarantees-
C Detailed information on letters of credit and guarantees-issued which
aggregate a customer/account party’s total outstanding liability
) Undrawn amount.
) Date of issuance.
) Expiration date of the credit.
) Name of the beneficiary.
) Tenor of the drafts to be drawn.
) Purpose for the credit.
) Whether issued or confirmed.
) Whether revocable or irrevocable.
) Whether negotiable or nonnegotiable.
) Whether revolving.
) Whether cumulative or noncumulative.
) Whether transferable.
Trade Finance 28 Comptroller’s Handbook
) Whether assignable.
) Whether there are amendments.
) Whether issued on behalf of domestic banks.
) Whether application (with official approval) is on file and in
agreement with letter of credit terms.
) Whether bank’s copy is initialed by the officer who signed the
original letter of credit.
4. For loan commitments and other contingent liabilities of which the
borrower has been made aware, analyze them if any current loan balance
plus the commitment or other contingent liability exceeds the cutoff.
5. Determine compliance with policy including credit criteria,
documentation, pricing, and terms.
6. Evaluate the credit risk of sampled borrowers by:
C Analyzing balance sheet and profit and loss items as reflected in
current and preceding financial statements, and determining whether
any favorable or adverse trends exist.
C Relating items or groups of items in the current financial statements to
other items or groups of items set forth in the statements, and
determining whether any favorable or adverse ratios exist.
C Reviewing components of the balance sheet as reflected in the current
financial statements, and determining whether each item is reasonable
in relation to the total financial structure.
C Reviewing supporting information for the major balance sheet items
and the techniques used in consolidation, and determining the primary
sources of repayment, and evaluating the adequacy of those sources.
C Reviewing compliance with provisions of trade finance agreements.
C Reviewing a digest of officers’ memorandums, mercantile reports,
credit hecks, and correspondence to determining the existence of any
problems that might deter the contractual liquidation program.
C Relating any collateral values, including “margin” and “cash collateral”
deposits, to outstanding trade finance instrument.
C Comparing fees charged to the bank’s fee schedule(s), and determining
whether terms are within established guidelines.
Comptroller’s Handbook 29 Trade Finance
C Comparing the amount of the trade finance outstanding with the
lending officer’s authority.
C Analyzing any secondary support afforded by guarantors/counter-
C Ascertaining compliance with the bank’s established policies.
7. Test participation certificates and records, and determine whether the
parties share in the risks and contractual payments on a pro-rata basis.
8. Determine whether the books and records of the bank properly reflect the
9. Investigate any participations sold immediately before the date of
examination to determine whether any were sold to avoid examiner
10. Review any circumstances that suggest preferential treatment for officers,
directors, and insiders of the bank.
11. Review any circumstances that might indicate preferential treatment for
officers and directors of other banks.
12. Prepare “Report of Borrowings of Officers of Other Banks,” if
13. Determine liability to the bank on drafts paid under letters of credit and
guarantees paid for which the bank has not been reimbursed by the
14. Discuss with management any large or old items.
Shared National Credits
15. Compare the schedule of trade finance instruments included in the
Uniform Review of Shared National Credits program to the sample
Trade Finance 30 Comptroller’s Handbook
selection to determine which of the sample items are portions of shared
16. For each sample item so identified, transcribe appropriate information
from the schedule to line sheets, and return the schedule. No further
examination procedures are necessary for these items.
Interagency Country Exposure Review Committee Credits
17. Compare the schedule to the sample selection to determine which letters
of credit are portions of Interagency Country Exposure Review
18. For each letter of credit so identified, transcribe appropriate information
from the schedule to line sheets, and return the schedule. No further
examination procedures are necessary in this area.
Previously Criticized Loans
19. For letters of credit criticized during the previous examination,
determine disposition by transcribing:
C Current balance and payment status, or
C Date the trade finance instrument was drawn down
(refinanced), paid, expired or canceled, and the source of
20. For rebooked charged-off loans arising from trade finance transactions,
determine whether they:
C Meet the criteria and terms of the bank’s lending policy for
granting new loans.
C Are subject to classification. If they are, list loans for charge-off.
Letters of Credit
21. Review red clause letters of credit (packing credits) to determine
C Clean advance or anticipatory drawing finance to the beneficiary
(exporter or agent) is authorized under the letter of credit.
Comptroller’s Handbook 31 Trade Finance
C The beneficiary will undertake to deliver, before the expiration
date, the shipping documents called for in the letter of credit.
C The foreign bank makes advances to the beneficiary and is paid
by drawing its own draft on the issuing (opening) bank, or the
beneficiary is authorized to draw its draft on the issuing bank
and the drafts received that are charged to the importer.
22. Review travelers’ letters of credit (sometimes used in lieu of travelers’
checks) to ensure that:
C They authorize the issuing bank’s correspondent to negotiate
drafts drawn by the beneficiary named in the credit up to a
specified amount upon proper identification.
C The customer is furnished with a list of the issuing bank’s
C They are prepaid in full.
23. Review back-to-back letters of credit to ensure that:
C The backing letter of credit is properly assigned as collateral to
the bank issuing the original letter of credit.
C The terms of the original letter of credit are identical to those on
the backing credit except that the beneficiary and account party
are different; the amount of the original is not greater than that of
the backing credit; the expiration date has been brought forward
to ensure that the transaction will be completed before the
backing letter of credit expires; and the beneficiary of the
backing letter of credit is a regular customer of the bank issuing
(opening) the second letter of credit.
24. When reviewing standby letters of credit, consider:
C Whether they represent undertakings to pay up to a specific
amount upon presentation of drafts or documents before a
C Whether they represent an issuer’s obligation to a beneficiary to
repay money borrowed by, advanced to, or advanced for the
account party; make payment for any indebtedness undertaken
by the account party; or make payment because of the account
party’s default in the performance of an obligation, e.g., default
Trade Finance 32 Comptroller’s Handbook
on loans, performance of contracts, or actions relating to
25. When reviewing deferred payment letters of credit (trade-related),
C They call for the drawing of sight drafts, with the proviso that
such drafts are not to be presented until a specified period after
presentation and surrender of shipping documents to the bank.
C The bank’s liability for outstanding letters of credit calling for
deferred payment is reflected as contingent liability until
presentation of such documents.
C The bank has received, approved, and acknowledged receipt of
the documents, thereby becoming directly liable to pay the
beneficiary at a determinable future date.
C The payment will be made to the beneficiary by a certain date
quarterly, semiannually, annually, etc. (If the bank has advanced
money to the beneficiary against the deferred payment letter of
credit, with its proceeds assigned as collateral to repay the
advance, the transaction should be treated as a loan rather than
a deferred payment letter of credit.)
26. Review clean deferred payment letters of credit to determine whether:
C They call for future payment against simple receipt without
documents evidencing an underlying trade transaction.
C Are shown as direct liabilities on the bank’s records when drafts
are presented by the beneficiary and received by the bank.
27. Determine whether an authority to purchase:
C Grants recourse to the drawer, does not do so, or does not do so
but is confirmed by the negotiating bank.
C Contains a “Far Eastern clause” for drafts drawn on the buyer.
This clause obligates the buyer to pay interest at a stipulated rate
covering the period between payment to the exporter and
reimbursement from the importer.
28. Review U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) letters of credit
to ensure that:
Comptroller’s Handbook 33 Trade Finance
C The bank has an AID letter of commitment authorizing the
C The bank has checked to make sure that all documents,
including those presented by the beneficiary, comply with the
terms of both the letter of credit and the AID commitment.
C A letter of agreement between the bank and the foreign
government gives the bank recourse should AID fail to
reimburse the bank.
29. Determine that for Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) letters of
C The bank has a CCC letter of commitment authorizing the bank
to issue letters of credit to beneficiaries supplying eligible
commodities to foreign importers.
C At least 10 percent of an amount covered by a letter of credit in
favor of the CCC is confirmed, i.e., guaranteed by a U.S. bank
for commercial credit risk. Determine whether the total value of
the credit is advised through a U.S. bank.
30. Review Export-Import Bank of the United States letters of credit by
C The bank has an agency agreement stating that Eximbank has
entered into a line of credit for a stipulated amount with a
foreign borrower; that the bank has been designated to issue the
letter(s) of credit; and that any payments made under an
Eximbank-approved letter of credit will be reimbursed by
C The bank has checked to make sure that all documents,
including those presented by the beneficiary, comply with the
terms of both the letter of credit and the Eximbank agreement.
31. Review advised (notified) letters of credit to ensure that the bank merely
advises the beneficiary and bears no responsibility. (These letters should
not be examined unless the bank has communicated the letter of credit
terms erroneously to the beneficiary, thereby posing a possible liability
for the bank.)
32. Review other types of letters of credit to determine whether the
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank),
the Inter-American Development Bank, or the Overseas Private
Trade Finance 34 Comptroller’s Handbook
Investment Corporation reimburse the bank for issuing letters of credit
on their behalf.
Objective: To determine the quality of earnings provided by the trade finance
1. Obtain a profitability report for the area and compare performance to
budget. Also review bank product profitability and loan pricing models
to determine proper income and expense allocations.
2. Using management reports and the UBPR, review the department’s
performance by analyzing:
C Profitability trends.
C Delinquency trends.
C Loss and recovery trends.
3. Discuss with management adverse trends and large or unusual
differences from budget.
Objective: To determine compliance with applicable laws, rulings, and regulations
for trade finance.
Letters of credit
1. Letters of credit — independent undertakings (12 CFR 7.1016)
Determine that outstandings are true letter of credit transactions rather than
guarantees by confirming that:
C The independent character of the undertaking is apparent from
C The undertaking is limited in amount.
C The bank’s undertaking is limited in duration, permits the bank
to terminate the undertaking either periodically or at will upon
either notice or payment to the beneficiary, or entitles the bank
to cash collateral from the account party on demand.
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C The bank either is fully collateralized or has a post-honor right of
reimbursement from its customer or another issuer of an
independent undertaking. If the bank’s undertaking is to
purchase documents of title, confirm that the bank has first
priority to realize on the documents if the bank is not otherwise
to be reimbursed.
2. Lending limits on standby letters of credit (12 CFR 32.2 (d) (e))
C Review letters of credit to determine which are standby letters of
credit subject to 12 U.S.C. 84 (lending limits).
C Identified standby letter of credit must represent an obligation to
the beneficiary on the part of the issuing bank to repay money
borrowed by, advanced to, or advanced for the account of the
account party; to make payment on account of any indebtedness
undertaken by the account party; or to make payment if the
account party defaults in the performance of an obligation.
C Determine whether the credit of the account party under any
standby letter of credit is analyzed just as thoroughly as that of
an applicant for an ordinary loan.
C Combine standby letters of credit with any other of the issuing
bank’s nonaccepted loans to the account party for the purposes
of applying 12 U.S.C. 84.
C Identify standby letters of credit subject to a nonrecourse
participation agreement with another bank or banks where the
limits of 12 U.S.C. 84 apply to the issuer and each participant.
C Determine which standby letters of credit are not subject to 12
U.S.C. 84 because, before or at the time of issuance, the issuing
bank is paid an amount equal to the bank’s maximum liability
under the standby letter of credit; before or at the time of
issuance, the issuing bank has set aside sufficient funds in a
segregated deposit account clearly earmarked to cover the
bank’s maximum liability under the standby letter of credit; or
the OCC has found that a particular standby letter of credit or
class of standby letters of credit will not expose the issuer to as
much loss as a loan to the account party.
3. General notes to financial statements: commitments and contingent
liabilities (12 CFR 11.928 (d))
Trade Finance 36 Comptroller’s Handbook
C Determine whether the bank provides a brief statement on
contingent liabilities, including standby letters of credit, that are
not reflected on the balance sheet.
4. Anti-boycott provisions for issuance of letters of credit (15 CFR 769.2)
C Determine that the bank is not engaging in transactions related
to unsanctioned foreign boycotts.
C Determine that letter of credit instruments do not contain illegal
5. Reporting requirements for anti-boycott provisions (15 CFR 769.6)
C Determine whether the bank reports any written or oral
information about unsanctioned foreign boycotts.
6. Exceptions to prohibitions (15 CFR 769.3)
C Determine whether the bank reports agreements to comply with
permissible requirements of import documents, such as
nonexclusionary certifications of origin, and import
requirements denying entry to goods and services from nationals
and residents of a certain nation.
7. National bank as guarantor or surety on indemnity bond (12 CFR
Ascertain whether a bank that is lending its credit, binding itself as a
surety to indemnify others, or otherwise guaranteeing has:
C A substantial interest in the performance of the transaction
C A segregated deposit sufficient to cover the bank’s total potential
8. Foreign operations (12 CFR 28.4(c))
C Determine whether the bank guarantees the deposits and other
liabilities of its Edge Act and agreement corporations and
corporate instrumentalities in foreign countries.
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